VIDEO: What a Disney Cartoon from 1950 Can Tell Us About Drivers & Street Design

Jekyll & Hyde When We Drive

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Earlier this week Vox ran a great story overviewing the car lobby's creation of jaywalking, and how we as a society took the bait hook, line and sinker, transforming our public streets from dynamic public spaces full of commerce and life into traffic sewers. By prioritizing private car traffic over all others, we've inadvertently robbed our cities of one of their biggest assets, interesting streets we all want to spend time on. Slowly we've begun reclaiming those streets. Though Western Europe is arguably way ahead of us in this realm with Madrid closing off car traffic on many of its downtown streets and Paris soon to implement a car ban, Philadelphia is starting to catch on. We've seen the positive effects even a small intervention like the Grays Ferry Triangle can achieve, creating safe spaces for pedestrians and commerce.

Yet in order for us to understand where we are going, we need to understand where we've come from. Sixty-five years ago Disney made a cartoon that sums up all that is wrong with our treatment of cars and what we let drivers get away with. For any of us who have driven, this author included, this short is still as relevant today as it was in 1950. Though "Motor Mania" speaks for itself, it is worth dissecting a little further. There's a surprising amount of transit wisdom we can glean from the 6 minute, 39 second video. Take a look:

0:50 - Disney sets the stage up noting that Mr. Walker is an average man with good intentions and an agreeable persona.

1:17 - "Mr. Walker owns a motorcar and considers himself a good driver." Heh, don't we all.

1:25 - "But, once behind the wheel, a strange phenomenon takes place." How many times have you surprised yourself at how you take on a different persona behind the wheel.

1:49 - Motorist yelling at a pedestrian (on a sidewalk no less) rather than restraining themselves or being self reflective enough to realize that the motorist holds a great deal more power in the dynamic of the street.

1:52 - Do as I say, not as I do. 

2:00 - Hit and run.

2:05 - Driver road ownership mentality due to fuel taxes. Note to drivers, our federal and state gasoline taxes haven't kept up with inflation and don't actually cover the full cost of driving. This especially comes into play with daily driver vs. cyclist mentality.

2:22 - People who don't know how to merge into highway traffic.

2:44 - Driver-led policing of roads. Drivers who knowingly slow traffic by going slow in a fast lane, because they think it's their duty to.

3:12 - Our ire and disgust for traffic lights. Red light cameras? Even worse.

3:23 - Multiple lanes of traffic carrying cars in the same direction creating dangerous scenarios of racing or overtaking drivers in areas that can't support that speed. Level of Service road planning at its worst.

4:05 - Parking heaven, how it turns us to hellish creatures fighting for free spaces and bumping our neighbors to squeeze in.

4:24 - Exiting the car renders the driver "normal" again. Jekyll and Hyde for ourselves to consider next time we turn the ignition.

4:28 - Streets designed around cars, not pedestrians.

5:00 - The very real and present danger of pedestrian injury and death. Car accidents cause significant loss of life. In 2010, 5449 pedestrians died in collisions with cars. (32,999 in car accidents at large)

5:07 - Parts of a city where pedestrians fear to tread. Grays Ferry Ave & University Ave comes to mind. Roosevelt too.

5:39 - Cyclists on the sidewalk. 

5:49 - Reverts back to monster behind the wheel of his machine. His personal space. His domain.

6:20 - Logic fails us when it comes to dangerous behavior we fail to acknowledge as individuals, and as a society with police who turn a blind eye to drivers.

Sixty-five years have passed and yet we finally seem to be turning the corner on better transit and road planning. New York is setting the domestic pace with it's full-scale adoption of Vision Zero. Greater education and enforcement of the NYPD is still needed to truly change the candor and some judges still just don't get it but the fight has begun. California has fazed out Level of Service for road projects, automatically rebalancing the needs of pedestrians and public transit over private car drivers for new projects. And yes, here in Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass is calling on adoption of Vision Zero standards for Philadelphia and The 5th Square PAC I am leading up has this as one of our main platform items for the next mayor and city council to address. Disney's cartoon is a cautionary tale. It makes us smile because it is so true. What shouldn't make us smile are the thousands who die or are permanently injured due to reckless driving, poor street design and the lack of proper enforcement of our traffic laws. For those folks, and for a brighter future, we will continue this fight. It's literally a matter of life and death. We'd do well to remember that every day we get behind the wheel.


Last Updated: Thursday, 22 January 2015 @ 13.52
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geoff's picture Geoff Kees Thompson Founder + Urban Planner Website: About the Author:

Other than time away from Philly studying his masters in Urban Planning in the Netherlands, Geoff has lived here since 2005. He founded This Old City to advocate for better public space as a means to economic development, improved public health, lower crime and a more environmentally sustainable future. He currently sits on the Executive Board of SOSNA and is the head volunteer gardener for Saint Mark's Church at 1625 Locust Street.


He is also Chair of The 5th Square PAC, an organization committed to voter education and the funding of progressive urbanist candidates for Philadelphia's future. 


Follow This Old City on Twitter @thisoldcity and Facebook or Geoff individually @geoffkees

Follow The 5th Square on Twitter @5thsq and Facebook